Vitiligo (vit-ih-LIE-go) is a disease that causes the loss of skin color in blotches. The extent and rate of color loss from vitiligo is unpredictable. It can affect the skin on any part of your body. It may also affect hair and the inside of the mouth.
Normally, the color of hair and skin is determined by melanin. Vitiligo occurs when the cells that produce melanin die or stop functioning. Vitiligo affects people of all skin types, but it may be more noticeable in people with darker skin. The condition is not life-threatening or contagious. It can be stressful or make you feel bad about yourself.
Treatment for vitiligo may restore color to the affected skin. But it does not prevent continued loss of skin color or a recurrence.
The main sign of vitiligo is patchy loss of skin color. Usually, the discoloration first shows on sun-exposed areas, such as the hands, feet, arms, face and lips.
Vitiligo signs include:
Vitiligo can start at any age, but often appears before age 20.
Depending on the type of vitiligo you have, the discolored patches may cover:
It's difficult to predict how your disease will progress. Sometimes the patches stop forming without treatment. In most cases, pigment loss spreads and eventually involves most of your skin. Rarely, the skin gets its color back.
See your doctor if areas of your skin, hair or eyes lose coloring. Vitiligo has no cure. But treatment may help to stop or slow the discoloring process and return some color to your skin.
Vitiligo occurs when pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) die or stop producing melanin â the pigment that gives your skin, hair and eyes color. The involved patches of skin become lighter or white. Doctors don't know why the cells fail or die. It may be related to:
If your doctor suspects you have vitiligo, he or she will ask about your medical history, examine you and try to rule out other medical problems, such as dermatitis or psoriasis. He or she may use a special lamp to shine ultraviolet light onto the skin to determine whether you have vitiligo.
In addition to gathering your personal and family medical history and examining your skin, your doctor may:
People with vitiligo may be at increased risk of:
Limited studies show that the herb Ginkgo biloba may return skin color in people with vitiligo. Other small studies show that alpha-lipoic acid, folic acid, vitamin C and vitamin B-12 plus phototherapy may restore skin color for some people.
As with any over-the-counter (nonprescription) treatment, check with your doctor before trying alternative medicine therapies to be sure they won't interact badly with other treatments you may be using.
The following self-care tactics may help you care for your skin and improve its appearance:
Protect your skin from the sun and artificial sources of UV light. If you have vitiligo, particularly if you have light skin, use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Apply sunscreen generously and reapply every two hours â or more often if you're swimming or sweating.
You can also seek shade and wear clothing that shields your skin from the sun. Don't use tanning beds and sunlamps.
Protecting your skin from the sun helps prevent sunburn and long-term damage. A bad sunburn can make your condition worse. Sunscreen also minimizes tanning, which makes the contrast between normal and discolored skin less noticeable.
You may feel stressed, self-conscious, sad, ashamed or even devastated by the change in your appearance caused by vitiligo. You may feel that the condition limits your ability to go about your daily activities, especially if it's widespread or affects visible areas of your body, such as the face, hands, arms and feet.
These tips may help you cope with vitiligo: